Recently, you may have seen advertisements on the Xbox Dashboard about a game called Undertow. I normally download a lot of Live Arcade games to see if any are really good, as most of them are really boring and/or not fun at all. Undertow is one of the rarities in the XBLA, as it went over my expectations.
The game itself starts with a quote from a book talking about how humans can now live underwater. Thoughts of Rapture (BioShock) came to mind immediately. You play as an underwater town’s defenders as threats from pirates often occur. When the cinematic starts, you are fixing a leak with another guy talking about the pirate attacks when suddenly, you get attacked. What a coincidence!
You are then put into a battle where have to swim around underwater and blast people with a laser harpoon gun (different classes have different guns [I like the marine the best because I can swim fast and take out enemies really quickly]) and use Depth Charge (which is like a bomb) to survive. Battles are against the blue team (defenders), and against yellowish orange team (pirates). Undertow requires you to take control points (command posts), which you do by swimming in the area and taking out any near by bad guys. To fire you use the second control stick just like you do in Geometry Wars. You can turbo boost, which you can master for quick kills in awesome ways. The controls are easy to get used to and are pretty simplistic.
In graphics this game rules! Undertow is based on Unreal technology, I assume for the awesome water and lighting effects. Chair Entertainment (the company who made Undertow), did an awesome job on the level of detail for graphics. You really need to see them to believe it. Ripple effects, explosions, bubbles, etc. They are all nicely done. However, no one’s mouth moves when they talk. Something odd and extremely noticeable despite some shadow that is portrayed on the debriefer’s face (he is only your debriefer in the first few levels).
The biggest downside is it’s length, but being an Xbox Live Arcade game, it is okay, if it was not an Arcade game, this would be a problem. The story only lasts about 3 Acts, with each act having about 5 missions (2 of those missions are boss battles). However, this is an Xbox Live Arcade game so 15 levels is a good amount for a story mode. Thankfully Chair put in extra modes into Undertow, like a Co-Op campaign mode, as well as a Versus mode which allows you to duke it out underwater with the AI. The multiplayer includes 9 maps for up to 16 players. So, Chair makes up for the story length in the end.
And now to the ratings:
Sound: 9.0 – The sound quality was excellent and they did a great job with water noises. But the base being captured sound is played way too often.
Graphics: 9.4 – Well done. The water effects in themselves really bolster up this number, as well as the differences in bases and such. Just over all, greatness for an Xbox Live Arcade Game. However, the actors have to have their mouths move to talk. And the debriefer has a silly animation that causes him to wobble every now and then.
Difficulty: 9.6 – The difficulty is pretty good, Undertow covers many different difficulties, from Casual (like easy mode or people who play to relax), Normal, and Ultra (like super hard for people who have mastered this game). The changes in difficulty are easy to notice, enemies get smarter and will attempt actively to strike in groups for CP’s and try to get as many as they can. I mainly played Casual and Normal mode.
Story: 7.7 – Originally it does a very poor job introducing who you are as during the clip scenes, you are black but when you play in battles you are blue. The story is pretty interesting and makes you want to learn more. It does a okay job of drawing you in. It’s really hard to follow at times due to what seems to be the use of the same voice actor as the player (the player plays different characters).
Controls: 9.3 – The controls are easy to learn and master. However shooting can get a bit awkward at times with some of the slow to fire classes. I would also fix the character switching system. To switch you have to press A, but no menu or list of classes you can switch to (press a direction button to choose) isn’t very helpful.
Playback: 9.6 – The playback of the game is great, due to the fact the enemies don’t have a scripted fighting system, they seem to learn and battles are different each time you play.
Overall: 9.4 – This is a great game and I would suggest it to pretty much anyone. A must have!